Having been in Vietnam for a few years, I’d like to think that I’ve learned a thing or two about making the most out of life in this beautiful country. Some people might say that it takes a while to get used to some of the more unusual aspects of living here, but I’m one of the few people who just jumped straight in and felt in my element. Zero anxiety, zero culture shock, not even a lick of homesickness. Having said that , there are still some things that I wish I knew before making the move here. Here are a few bits of wisdom on practical things to know before moving to Vietnam. Hope they help you too.
Before you even leave your home country, make sure you have your documents in order. Suffice to say, Vietnam likes it’s stamps. Get multiple notarized copies of important documents such as diplomas, professional certificates, police clearance/checks.
Your visa is obviously the most important thing to enter Vietnam, but also don’t take for granted the flexibility that a freshly issued passport has to offer. You won’t have to worry about having it expire when you’re far away from home, which could add a lot of unnecessary stress to your trip.
Make sure to also renew (or get!) your driver’s license. Having a valid driver’s license from your home country will make the process of getting a local Vietnam driver’s license that much easier. And remember that if you don’t have a valid local license, your insurance is null and void.
Speaking of insurance – even if you’re not planning on driving, there are still a lot of other things to consider when it comes to your health and wellbeing in Vietnam. Make sure your employer is providing quality medical insurance, or at least consider getting travel insurance as well.
Last but not least for documents, make sure to close down all your subscriptions back home before you leave. This includes things like utility bills, phone contracts, and any other kind of subscription you might have. It’s a pain to deal with these things from afar, so it’s best to just take care of them before you go.
And in case you might need it, sign a Power of Attorney document to have someone help you sort out admin back home.
It’s 2022, and with all the technology at our disposal, you would think that finding a place to live in Vietnam would be as easy as 123. But alas, it is not. First mistake to avoid is posting on a Facebook apartments group and saying that you’re looking for an apartment. You will be bombarded with hundreds of messages from real estate agents, many of whom will not have what you’re looking for, but will try to sell you on the merits of what they have anyway. If moving to Saigon, you might also want to consider places other than Thao Dien.
I’ve realised now that perhaps the best way to find a place checks most of the boxes is to either ask a friend to introduce you to their agent, or by going to an agent’s office (in person). Notice that I said “most” of the boxes, and not all of them. This is because in Vietnam, it’s very rare that you’ll find a place that checks all of the boxes.
If you do prefer to use just online resources, I would strongly suggest that you be the one to reach out to the agents, rather than the other way around. Don’t open up your inbox to hundreds of messages from people who don’t have what you’re looking for. There are decent Facebook groups and pages out there that focus on apartment rentals, and it would be to your best interest to only touch base with agents who have already posted options that you like.
Lastly, don’t forget that this is Vietnam. Serviced apartments are surprisingly cheap. While they will mostly be studio or one bedroom apartments, they will come with all the bells and whistles: weekly cleaning service, wifi, laundry, cable TV, gym, swimming pool, etc. All of this for around $400 – $600 USD per month. This will be a great starter option if you’re not sure how long you’ll be staying in Vietnam, or if you just want a hassle free option.
Banking and Finances
So the stamps and documents we mentioned above? Yeah, Vietnam really likes it’s documents and stamps, and nowhere is this more apparent than when it comes to banking. Banks here will require that you have a registered address (and all the admin that entails), and a long-ish term visa in order to open an account. You can still access your cash even if your visa runs out, but it might not be a straightforward as going to an ATM. This can be a problem for digital nomads or those who are only planning on staying in Vietnam for a short period
If you have the option, I would strongly suggest setting up an account with banks that have zero-fee cross border transfers to their branches in other countries. This will come in handy when you inevitably need to transfer money back home at some point. Renew your credit card to maximise the validity.
Perhaps a more democratic alternative to this would be to just use Wise. I’ve used them a few times now and have been impressed with their rates and service. Transactions are pretty quick as well. They’re not perfect, but they’re a lot better than most banks when it comes to international transfers. You can get paid into any of the multi currency accounts.
The main limitation with Wise is that their service would only work cost effectively for transactions inbound into Vietnam. They currently don’t have VND accounts, but you can transfer money out of Vietnam using a locally issued credit card – the problem is the charges are quite steep (around 5%)
It would also help to set up a cryptocurrency wallet while you’re still abroad, to give yourself additional flexibility in transferring money in and out of Vietnam. Crypto is incredibly liquid in Vietnam and moving funds into and out of, say, USDT, is relatively straightforward – as long as you have an account already existing.
Lastly, and this is more of a general tip for living overseas, try to automatically put a bit of your monthly income into a long term investment account, similar to a 401K or a Pension. Open one up while you’re at home if you can. If you’re already in Vietnam, there are still ways to set up an investment fund. Ask yourself these questions, and let’s have a chat.
Shoes, Medicine, and Other Stuff
The world is now, thankfully, small enough to where you can find just about anything you need here in Vietnam. However, there are still some items that are either more expensive or more difficult to find than others.
Shoes, for example, can be a bit of a challenge to find if you have larger feet. If you wear anything larger than a size 10 US shoe, you’re going to have some difficulty finding decent looking shoes in Vietnam. Before leaving your home country, get 2 or 3 pairs of shoes and bring them over – thank me later. You can also get yourself some custom made shoes in Hoi An, if you have the time and patience.
In the same way, while some of the most common medicines are readily available (and medical care in general quite affordable) in Vietnam, some of the more specialized or difficult to find ones are not. So if you’re on any sort of long term medication, make sure to bring enough with you to last at least a few months.
Lastly, consumer electronics are, for the most part, quite affordable in Vietnam. But, as with anything, there are always going to be some items that are more expensive here than they would be in your home country. If you’re planning on buying a laptop, for example, you might want to pick one up before coming here. The same goes for gaming consoles.
Moving to Vietnam is an exciting adventure, but there are a few things you should know before making the move. Be sure to get your documents in order, sort out your finances, and perhaps even learn some Vietnamese. But that’s beyond the scope of this post. At least we hope that with these bits of wisdom in mind, you’ll have a smooth transition into life in Vietnam!
Got any questions about personal finance, best areas to live in, or anything else related to living in Vietnam? Shoot me an email, I’m always happy to help!